LONDON -- A closely monitored survey has found that new coronavirus infections across the U.K. have fallen sharply, just days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlines a roadmap as to how lockdown restrictions in England can be eased in the weeks and months to come.
The Office for National Statistics said in its weekly infection survey that rates of transmission have fallen across all four U.K. nations. In England, it estimated that in the week to Feb. 12, one in 115 people tested positive for COVID-19. In the previous week, the rate stood at one in 80.
A similar picture emerged in the other three nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The whole of the U.K., which has recorded the most coronavirus-related deaths in Europe at nearly 120,000, is in lockdown. Leaders are being careful about lifting lockdown restrictions, but are hoping that many can be eased from next month onwards following the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines. On Monday, Johnson is expected to allow some students to return to school on March 8.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— ‘Alone’: A year later, how Italian town with country’s 1st known virus death fared
— Africa reaches 100,000 known COVID-19 deaths as danger, vaccine concerns grow
— Old habits imperil Iraq as doctors warn of second virus wave
— Joe Biden will use his first big presidential moment on the global stage at Friday’s Group of Seven meeting to announce that the U.S. will begin releasing $4 billion to supply poor nations with coronavirus vaccines.
— Millions of vulnerable U.S. residents will need COVID-19 vaccines brought to them because they rarely or never leave their homes.
— The large number of restaurants that went out of business due to the pandemic has been a boon for commercial auctioneers that buy used equipment and resell them to the eating establishments that managed to stay afloat.
Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch finance minister was on thin ice for taking to a speed skating oval with one of the Netherlands’ greatest Olympians.
Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra faced criticism Friday for breaching the country’s tough coronavirus lockdown after posting a photo of himself on Twitter skating alongside Sven Kramer, the winner of four Winter Olympics gold medals in speed skating.
“Sport is incredibly nice and also healthy,” Hoekstra tweeted.
It is also currently banned at indoor venues such as the Thialf oval where Hoekstra skated.
“Indoor sports venues are shut, so this was not allowed,” Minister for Medical Care and Sport Tamara van Ark told reporters in The Hague.
Hoekstra quickly admitted he’d made a mistake.
BUDAPEST— Hungarian health authorities issued final approval to a COVID-19 vaccine produced in China, clearing the way for the first inoculations with a Chinese vaccine in the European Union.
Hungary’s chief medical officer, Cecilia Muller, said during a press briefing that examinations of the Sinopharm vaccine by the country’s National Public Health Center had found it to be in line with documentation provided by its developer. Hungary received 550,000 doses of the vaccine on Tuesday, enough to treat 275,000 people with the two-round jab.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that he expected a rapid acceleration of vaccinations in coming days, and that health authorities planned to inoculate 650,000 people within a week to 10 days. Hungary has vaccinated 391,821 people to date.
BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia has administered more than a million doses of vaccines against the new coronavirus which puts the Balkan country among the top countries in Europe when it comes to inoculation.
Most Serbian citizens have received China’s Sinopharm vaccines, followed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Russia’s Sputnik V. Serbia’s populist government has close relations with both China and Russia, while formally seeking European Union membership.
The state RTS television on Friday said that government data show that a total of 1,074,571 jabs were given — including both the first and second doses — as the vaccination continues.
The report says that Serbia is the sixth country globally by the number of administered vaccines and the second in Europe. In the Balkan region, Serbia leads the way in vaccination per capita while trailing Romania in the number of administered doses, RTS says.
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s executive commission plans to double its contribution to the World Health Organization’s COVAX program, bringing the 27-nation bloc’s commitment to the initiative to deliver vaccines to poor nations to 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion).
According to an EU official who spoke anonymously, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen will make the announcement later Friday during a meeting of the leaders of the Group of Seven economic powers.
The official was not authorized to speak publicly because details have not been made public.
Von der Leyen will also announce an additional 100 million euros ($121.4 million) to support vaccination campaigns in Africa in partnership with the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The EU is one of the leading donors to the COVAX program, which aims to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 shots for low-and middle-income countries. COVAX hopes to deploy some 336 million doses by the end of June, and around 2 billion doses by the end of the year.
But the program has already missed the goal of starting vaccination in poor countries at the same time that doses were rolled out in rich countries.
— Reported by Lorne Cook
PRAGUE — The Czech government moved to further tighten restrictions Friday amid a surge of a highly contagious coronavirus variant in one of the hardest-hit European Union’s nations.
At the same time, the worsening situation has forced the Cabinet to abandon its plans to reopen all stores as soon as next week.
Health Minister Jan Blatny said residents will have to wear better protection than just a face mask in places like stores, public transportation and hospitals where large numbers of people gather.
Blatny said a respirator and a mask made of nanomaterials or two surgical face masks will be required and homemade textile masks won’t be considered sufficient.
“We’ve agreed that it’s necessary to do all we can to prevent the infection from spreading,” Blatny said.
The Czech Republic is facing a surge of a fast-spreading coronavirus variant first found in Britain that scientists think is more deadly than the original virus. The countries three hardest-hit counties, located on the border with Germany and Poland, are under a complete lockdown.
NAIROBI, Kenya — An African Union-created task force working to secure COVID-19 vaccines says Russia has offered 300 million doses of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine.
The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, said in a statement Friday that the body is “tremendously proud” to offer the doses to Africa’s 54 countries. The statement says the Sputnik V doses will be available in May.
The AU previously secured 270 million doses from AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. As the African continent continues to wait for vaccine deliveries from the global COVAX initiative, the Africa CDC has encouraged the pursuit of doses from bilateral arrangements and other sources.
The African continent has barely seen large numbers of doses arrive. Health officials have spoken about growing tensions and inequality with richer countries that have stockpiled vaccines.
The goal is to vaccinate 60% of the African continent’s population as soon as possible to achieve herd immunity. Officials say that taking too long could mean COVID-19 becomes endemic in parts of the continent of 1.3 billion people.
HONG KONG — China’s Sinovac delivered 1 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac to Hong Kong on Friday evening.
Government officials approved Sinovac’s two-dose vaccine on Thursday. The semi-autonomous city is relying on three vaccines and has purchased 22.5 million doses in total.
Priority groups include health care workers and those above the age of 60, as well as essential workers. Online appointments will begin on Tuesday.
The city is also expecting 1 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine by the end of February. It has also purchased Astrazeneca’s shots.
Sinovac has yet to publicly release clinical trial data from its last stage of testing, drawing criticism for lack of transparency.
The Hong Kong government says the Sinovac vaccine has received unanimous approval from an expert panel of 12. The panel as well as the city’s health officials reviewed Sinovac’s early-stage trial data, as well as interim data from the last stage of clinical trials in Brazil.
Sinovac’s vaccine was approved for general use in China earlier in February.
BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control agency warned Friday that the drop in new coronavirus cases has levelled off even as the share of more contagious variants is rising.
Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute, said Germany may be heading toward another “turning point” in the pandemic after weeks of falling infections.
His agency reported 9,113 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past day, and 508 deaths. Germany has recorded almost 2.4 million cases and 67,206 deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
Earlier this week Health Minister Jens Spahn said the share of the more contagious variant virus first detected in Britain has reached about 22% in Germany, from 6% two weeks ago.
Spahn told reporters in Berlin that the government wants to double the number of vaccinations in the coming weeks, from about 140,000 per day at present.
Germany has administered almost 3 million first doses since late December. More than 1.5 million people have received their second shot.
Spahn confirmed a report by weekly Der Spiegel that the government has appointed a special adviser for vaccine production to liaise with manufacturers and speed up the delivery of additional doses to Germany.
ALGIERS, Algeria — President Abdelmadjid Tebboune says Algeria will start producing Russia’s Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine in six or seven months.
The announcement came Thursday in a televised address. Health Minister Abderahmane Benbouzid said earlier this week that the vaccine will be produced by state laboratory Saidal. They did not provide details about production plans.
Algeria, a longtime Russian ally, used Sputnik to launch its vaccination campaign last month.
But some doctors have complained that initial deliveries of 50,000 doses of Sputnik and 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine fall far short of need.
Algeria is also expecting deliveries of China’s vaccines and is eligible to receive vaccines through the COVAX global program for developing countries.
New infections in the country have stabilized in recent weeks, and the government slightly relaxed curfew rules last week to let hairdressers, gyms and some stores to reopen.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Multiple vaccination locations in the Portland area have been forced to close Friday and Saturday because of snowy and icy weather.
That means about 10,000 appointments must be rescheduled. In addition, COVID-19 shipments to the state have been delayed due to weather.
GAITHERSBURG, Md. — Vaccine developer Novavax has agreed to provide 1.1 billion doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in more than 190 low- and middle-income countries.
The company said Thursday it has reached agreement with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to provide the doses to the COVAX Facility, a project led by Gavi, the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
They’re working with groups including UNICEF, the World Bank and charities to guarantee equitable access to vaccines against the coronavirus to all countries.
Novavax Inc., of Gaithersburg, and the Serum Institute of India, a top maker of vaccines for poor countries, will manufacture and distribute the Novavax vaccine. It’s still in two late-stage studies, one in the U.S. and Mexico and the other in the UK.
Novavax said testing has found the shot works against the original COVID-19 strain and two variants first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now circulating widely.